Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ARIS 2008

The latest installment of the American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) was released this week. Its findings confirmed the findings of other surveys that Religion in the U.S. is on the decline and contradicts the infamous Baylor Survey which concluded that the U.S. is as religious as it ever was. The initial ARIS Survey was performed in 1990 and a follow-up was done in 2001.

A major difference this year was a question addressing actual belief rather than simple identification. The results imply there are a lot more actual atheists, agnostics, and even deists, than those who identify themselves as such.

While only 0.7% of the population identify themselves as atheist and 0.9% identify themselves as agnostic, fully 12% of the American population express atheistic or agnostic beliefs. Another 12% express deist views.

Only 69.5% of the population expresses belief in the traditional monotheistic Personal God despite 76% still identifying themselves as Christian (down from 86% in 1990), 1.2% as Jews and another 0.6% as Muslims. The survey concludes from this that many people who identify themselves with a religion don’t actually fully subscribe to its theology.

Even so, there are now more professed atheists and agnostics in the country than there are Mormons, religious Jews (as opposed to ethnic Jews) or Muslims.

What ARIS calls the “Nones,” those with no religious affiliation, atheists and agnostics, has grown from 8.2% in 1990 to 15% in 2008. Only Catholics (25.1%), and Baptists, (15.8%) are more numerous.

Demographically women continue to be more religious than men. In the Christian categories women number between 52% and 58% of the adherents while fully 60% of the Nones are male.

Regionally the West is the least religious region with 20% Nones, followed by the Northeast with 17%, the Midwest with 15% and, of course coming in as the most religious region, the South with 12%. The sub-region with the highest percentage of Nones was New England with 22%. The state with the highest percentage was Vermont with 34%. The sub-region with the lowest percentage of Nones was the East South Central Division (AL, MS, KY, TN) with 10% and the state with the lowest was Mississippi with only 5%.

In terms of education, the groups with the lowest percentage of college graduates are the Pentacostals/Charasmatics with only 13% followed by the Baptists with 16%. Groups with the highest were Jews (57%) and Eastern Religions (59%). Catholics had 25%, Mainline Protestants 35% and Nones 31%. The U.S. National Average is currently 27%.

In terms of age, of the three largest groups, Catholics, Baptists and Nones, Baptists are by far the oldest with only 42% under the age of 50 (only 11% under the age of 30) and 21% over 70. Catholics have 59% under the age of 50 (21% under the age of 30) and 13% over 70. By comparison Nones have 70% under the age of 50 (29% under the age of 30) and only 7% over 70. The U.S. National Population is 60% under the age of 50 (22% under the age of 30) and 12% over the age of 70. Mainline Protestants have 53% under the age of 50 (18% under the age of 30) and 14% over 70.

So the non-religious segment is younger as well. This implies a continuing erosion of religion. A conclusion of the report was “The challenge to Christianity in the U.S. does not come from other religions but rather from a rejection of all forms of organized religion.”

You got that right bro’. Let’s hear it for the Big Red A.

Note that this survey was not done by a bunch of militant atheists. It was performed under the auspices of Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut by folks at worst neutral, and potentially friendly, toward religion in general.

The bottom line is that slowly, but surely, the U.S., despite Baylor University’s protests to the contrary, is undergoing the same decline of religion that Western Europe experienced. With the wider access to education and to the ideas propagated by the Internet, religion is loosing its grip. If it’s not already dead, it’s dying; it just doesn’t know it yet.

That’s not to say something might not happen to give it a boost now and then but, in the long run, the decline is inevitable. It will probably never die out entirely. It’s too good a meme and there will always be the young, the ignorant and the desperate that will cling to it but maybe, just maybe, my children will live to see the numbers dip below 50%.

It couldn’t come fast enough if you ask me. Religion is a millstone around the neck of civilization and, with the emergence of nuclear and biological weapons, a very dangerous millstone. One that is capable of leading to catastrophic damage to the human race. The sooner it is relegated to the junk heap, the better.

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